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Andrey Gubin

PhD in Political Science, Associate Professor at International Relations Department, Far Eastern Federal University, Adjunct Professor at the North-East Asia Research Center, Jilin University

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit will be held on November 18-19, 2022, in Thailand amid unprecedented tensions in the international arena caused by the confrontation between Russia and NATO, the escalation in the Taiwan Strait and mounting instability on the Korean Peninsula.

The motto of this year’s event is Open, Connect, Balance. The main goals boil down to: opening new opportunities in trade and investment for the entire Asia-Pacific; increasing the connectivity of countries and economies in all areas; as well as contributing to a balance in various aspects so as to accomplish the common goals of sustainable development. Low-carbon economy will be in the spotlight during the event, much as the free and equitable implementation of innovations and an enhancement of intra-regional ties.

In today’s difficult trade and investment environment, the focus on building flexible partnerships with nations of the Asia-Pacific beyond the usual intergovernmental arrangements would be justified for Russia. Attention should be given to ministerial-level relations as well as direct communication between participants in foreign economic activity. Given that some partners even from unfriendly countries are extremely interested in developing cooperation with Russia, such formats could be successful.

Amid Thailand’s current APEC chairmanship, the nature of bilateral interaction with this nation is of particular importance to Russia. For example, in August 2022, the Kingdom of Thailand’s Ambassador to Russia Sasivat Wongsinsawat proclaimed his government’s firm intention to invite Vladimir Putin to the upcoming APEC Summit. Such a visit would be especially important on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two nations. The Russian side officially thanked the Thai authorities for the invitation. As was stated by the Kremlin, Russia has consistently participated in APEC activities, attaching great importance to this association as a viable and open format for multilateral cooperation in the Pacific. It is notable that the Russian president personally attended the APEC summit in Thailand in 2003.

In May 2022, the APEC Ministerial Forum was held in Bangkok, with Maxim Reshetnikov, Russia’s Minister of Economic Development, in attendance. Due to representatives of Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States making their unfriendly move, no final protocol was approved. However, as reported by the Russian side, 23 out of 24 items were agreed on, which confirms the ability of APEC to promote the economic agenda.

It is possible that Bangkok, which can take advantage of its role as a hub and an intermediary, will also be willing to accommodate all the parties involved. With the U.S. assuming the APEC chairmanship in 2023, now is the best time to establish promising cooperation formats.

Freedom to business

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit will be held on November 18-19, 2022 in Thailand amid unprecedented tensions in the international arena caused by the confrontation between Russia and NATO, the escalation in the Taiwan Strait and mounting instability on the Korean Peninsula.

The motto of this year’s event is Open, Connect, Balance. The main goals boil down to: opening new opportunities in trade and investment for the entire Asia-Pacific; increasing the connectivity of countries and economies in all areas; as well as contributing to a balance in various aspects so as to accomplish the common goals of sustainable development. Low-carbon economy will be in the spotlight during the event, much as the free and equitable implementation of innovations and an enhancement of intra-regional ties. One of the key ideas is granting greater autonomy to economic actors in the face of complications in inter-state relations.

Unfading appeal

In 1989, APEC had no rivals, while it is now only part of the mosaic of structures and organizations that have emerged in the region since. Similar functions and goals are stated in the Chinese-centered Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the anti-Chinese Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the U.S. Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). The Forum did not do well in trade liberalization, and the 1994 Bogor Goals remained largely unfulfilled as bilateral and multilateral free-trade zones proved more promising. Political and security issues did not catch on in the APEC either, given its focus on the economic dimension.

Yet, the forum has not yet lost its relevance. Following the principle of open-ended regionalism, as globalization processes are ratcheting up, is thought to be capable of preventing the domination of closed regional groupings. The forum’s focus on supporting small and medium enterprises and increasing the mobility of entrepreneurs seems to be another advantage.

The APEC 2020 Summit in Malaysia adopted a new policy document, the Putrajaya Vision 2040, which focuses on the three drivers of economic growth—trade and investment, innovation and digitalization, as well as strong, balanced, secure, sustainable and inclusive growth. In 2021, New Zealand endorsed the Aotearoa Plan of Action for implementing the Putrajaya Vision. Post-pandemic economic recovery, further liberalization of trade and investment activities, stronger regional connectivity, safe movement of individuals, development of digital and bio-circular-green economy, checking the climate change are among APEC’s key priorities thrust in 2022 and beyond.

Despite the soundness and consistency of the priorities, it is, however, unlikely that this forum will serve as the basis for subsequent large-scale Pacific integration in the near future. In the region, APEC is still routinely perceived as a “Western project” to promote trans-Pacific ties along with a liberal economic model in Greater East Asia, with another goal being to weaken China. For this reason, China and some other nations in the region are not inclined to see the forum as universal, nor do they share all the principles of its operation. Moreover, even the U.S. has emphasized more comprehensive intergovernmental formats, such as the original TPP and the newly proposed IPEF, rather than the unwieldy structure of 21 economies, as part of the Pacific policy rebalancing.

Economic dream of the Asia-Pacific

In 1998, Russia joined the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, together with Peru and Viet Nam. Russia was particularly interested in the format’s open nature, whose status was not that of an international organization. Moscow’s goals were generally in line with the priorities of the dialogue mechanism, coming down to ensuring comprehensive and sustainable economic growth as well as deeper integration processes. Flexible non-governmental interaction schemes, including direct interaction between the participants of foreign economic activity, harbored the potential to accelerate mutual exchanges and to make the ties more effective. Besides, multilateral partnership regimes would complement bilateral ones in order to diversify Russia’s presence in world markets, as well as to leverage the potential of the Asia-Pacific region for “boosting” its territories in Siberia and the Far East.

The extensive preparations in the run-up to the Vladivostok Summit 2012 and the events on the sidelines of the forum in Vladivostok, St. Petersburg and Kazan during Russia’s chairmanship tenure were a clear indication of Russia’s intention to make the most of APEC membership. Moreover, as far back as 2012, Russia came up with the agenda that defined the forum’s activity for many years ahead. First, it’s the liberalization of trade and investment, regional economic integration with a focus on improving the administrative environment and lifting barriers for small and medium-sized businesses. Second, it is the strengthening of food security regimes, including the formation of sustainable markets, innovative agriculture, providing for the needs of vulnerable groups, and responsible maintenance of ecosystems. Third, it’s about the development of reliable transport, logistics and supply chains, including the removal of infrastructural bottlenecks, stronger emergency response capabilities, and protecting transportation facilities from terrorist attacks. Finally, it is intensive interaction to ensure innovative growth, namely, investing in high technology, cross-border interaction of technology centers, overcoming the “digital divide” [1].

The format of non-governmental partnership is especially relevant today, given the international financial, transportation and other restrictions imposed by the West. It is noteworthy that among Southeast Asian countries only Singapore has condemned Russia’s actions in connection with the events in Ukraine. As for other APEC members, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan Island are officially labeled as unfriendly nations. Peru and Chile came out in support of Ukraine at the General Assembly of the Organization of American States in October 2022. In the meantime, Russia will develop cooperation with China and Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Viet Nam, Mexico, Papua New Guinea and Brunei, because they have not joined the sanctions and are interested in consolidating their own international positions.

Siam elephant

Amid Thailand’s current APEC chairmanship, the nature of bilateral interaction with this nation is of particular importance to Russia. For example, in August 2022, the Kingdom of Thailand’s Ambassador to Russia Sasivat Wongsinsawat proclaimed his government’s firm intention to invite Vladimir Putin to the upcoming APEC Summit. Such a visit would be especially important on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two nations. The Russian side officially thanked the Thai authorities for the invitation. As was stated by the Kremlin, Russia has consistently participated in APEC activities, attaching great importance to this association as a viable and open format for multilateral cooperation in the Pacific. It is notable that the Russian president personally attended the APEC summit in Thailand in 2003.

In May 2022, the APEC Ministerial Forum was held in Bangkok, with Maxim Reshetnikov, Russia’s Minister of Economic Development, in attendance. Due to representatives of Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States making their unfriendly move, no final protocol was approved. However, as reported by the Russian side, 23 out of 24 items were agreed on, which confirms the ability of APEC to promote the economic agenda.

The main goal of enhancing bilateral cooperation between Russia and Thailand is reaching the trade turnover of USD 10 billion. At the end of 2021, this figure stood only at USD 2.7 billion, which is still 29% more than in 2020. The core areas of interest for Bangkok in terms of building up export to Russia are foods, textiles, sporting goods, car parts and medicines. Russia is planning to supply fertilizers, energy, helicopters and to develop the service sector. In the upcoming months, the initiatives of restoring tourism exchanges—in particular, flights from Moscow to Thailand that have been partially restarted since October 2022—are to be further elaborated. Work is underway to expand the use of the MIR payment system in the Kingdom, introducing payments in local currencies. What’s more, the idea of a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union has not been scrapped either.

The time is now

In today’s difficult trade and investment environment, the focus on building flexible partnerships with nations of the Asia-Pacific beyond the usual intergovernmental arrangements would be justified for Russia. Attention should be given to ministerial-level relations as well as direct communication between participants in foreign economic activity. Given that some partners even from unfriendly countries are extremely interested in developing cooperation with Russia, such formats could be successful.

It is possible that Bangkok, which can take advantage of its role as a hub and an intermediary, will also be willing to accommodate all the parties involved. With the U.S. assuming the APEC chairmanship in 2023, now is the best time to establish promising cooperation formats.

1. APEC: background information 2011-13. Russian APEC Research Center, M.: 2012, 70 pages, p. 52-53

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Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
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